This story was written by UoN Honours Student, Kurt Sengul (on Twitter)

It is this synthesis between theory and practice that has informed Melanie’s research and teaching philosophy which centres on the belief that academics have a responsibility to serve their professional field and the wider community.

In my practice, I used to do a lot of research into past campaigns and the theoretical work that was happening in academic journals to inform what I was doing,” Melanie says.

“I used to find the ideas in the research could provide different angles and ways of approaching complex communication and marketing problems.”

Joining the School of Design, Communication and IT in 2006, Melanie has authored four books, numerous journals articles, book chapters and conference papers. Her most recent book, “Positioning Theory and Strategic Communication” was published by Routledge in 2014.

Melanie’s extensive experience as a public relations practitioner allowed her to identify gaps between what was being written about in theory and what was actually occurring in practice.

“The way strategy was discussed was inadequate and it certainly didn’t reflect what I experienced in practice, or the way I had managed to achieve success in my programs,” she says.

It was her PhD research that led Melanie to explore Positioning Theory’s application in her field. As part of her research, she interviewed award winning practitioners and found that the term ‘positioning’ was frequently used to describe what they were doing.

“They were using this term like we all knew what it meant,” she says.

“But when I went back to the academic literature, positioning was rarely mentioned outside a narrow product-focused context.”

It was this gap in the literature that shifted Melanie’s PhD research to exploring the positioning concept.  She discovered Positioning Theory quite serendipitously by Googling the terms ‘social constructionism’ and ‘positioning’.

“The theory drew on Foucault’s work on discursive positioning which was developed in social psychology by scholars such as Rom Harré, Bronwyn Davies and Luk van Langenhove,” Melanie reports.

“However I soon realised it was very adaptable – it explained it all!”

Having published her theoretical framework in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Melanie was commissioned by Routledge to further develop her PhD research into an academic book.  Melanie spent the next two years working to apply and test the rigour of the framework which culminated in the book receiving the endorsement of one of the original co-authors on Positioning Theory, Professor Luk van Langenhove.

Image of book cover of Positioning Theory and Strategic Communication by Melanie James

For Melanie, positioning can be understood as a strategic and deliberate process whereby discursive positions are actively negotiated and achieved to various degrees. With this research, she is hoping to begin the conversation around to the possibilities and applications of Positioning Theory in the wider marketing and communication fields.

“I currently have PhD and honours students who are working with the framework, testing it and querying it and finding many of the strengths and the flaws within it, which is great,” Melanie says.

Positioning theory has been developed across many disciplines including health, international studies, international relations, education, as well as in journalism and management studies.

In collaboration with Professor Luk Van Langenhove (United Nations University, Belgium) and Dr Christine Redman (University of Melbourne), Melanie is co-organising the inaugural Positioning Theory Symposium to be held at the United Nations University Centre for Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium, on 6-9 July 2015.

“We will pull together the best of the papers presented at the symposium into a Handbook of Positioning Theory,” Melanie says.

Fittingly, just as academic research enriched her professional career, Melanie’s work offers practitioners a framework to design their strategies.

“I believe the framework can be just as useful in a campaign for a commercial product or service, a community initiative like immunisation, self-branding, or for a cause such as preserving Australia’s wildlife biodiversity,” she says.

Currently, Melanie, along with her colleagues Professor Mark Balnaves and Dr Marc Adam, are taking a cross-disciplinary approach to researching the construct and positioning of digital personae.

“We’re looking at how people position themselves, their brands, causes, services or products using digital platforms and social media,” she says.

“I’m particularly interested in how digital personae are used in contexts to position people, organisations and even human entities such as ‘Grumpy Cat’ or TV series characters.”

In the knowledge of how prevalent strategic positioning is in marketing and communications across both new and tradition platforms, Melanie is committed to exploring and applying Positioning Theory to these dynamic fields.

“Anything that deconstructs things that people take for granted is worthwhile doing,” Melanie affirms.

“It helps shines light on practices that potentially abuse the use of power in our societies, and that can only be a good thing.”

Originally published on Dr Melanie James’ University of Newcastle career profile page:

Read an overview of Positioning Theory at

When marking is not a chore

I’d be lying if I said I always enjoyed marking students’ work. That being said, I do always appreciate the importance of marking, and its role in feeding information about performance back to students and providing direction as to how they could improve.

However, this semester’s marking work has really brought home how valuable the exercise can be for me as an academic; providing me with information about my performance and providing direction as to how I might improve!

Having taken over as convenor of the Bachelor of Communication (Honours) course for the first time this year, I am faced with some heavy-duty marking responsibilities. In addition to teaching a specific communication course at this level, I’m also teaching the general Research Methods course for the School of Design, Communication and IT. There are about 30 students in this course from across our School’s four disciplines: visual communication, natural history illustration, communication and IT:

I’ve just finished marking the semester one learning journals. What a joy to see the diversity of projects. They ranged from the application of IT in defence learning programs through to illustrating what colour dinosaurs might have been, based on the latest scientific information. There was a project on how filmmakers include their fans in marketing efforts and another on examining how visual branding is interpreted across cultures. The range of almost 30 projects, all related to those creative industries our school teaches and researches, was mind blowing.

The students’ learning journals about these projects offered great insights into how differently people process their learning. Some kept journals as a blog, others used the university platform, Blackboard. About ten students kept hard copy journals – I brought home a washing basket filled with folders and visual diaries to mark last weekend. In a primarily online assessment world, this was a bit of a novelty for me.

From all journals I could readily see what was working in my course and what night need some work for next year. It was a great way to get the nitty-gritty feedback that is often missing from general satisfaction-type survey results.

From the teaching perspective, I love a learning journal. I know some students find them a chore but many report, especially after the submission, that they’ve found it worthwhile in the end. I’ve been using learning journals since 2007 and have even published a paper or two about it, but this is the most I’ve learnt from an assignment I’ve set for students.

As of this Friday I’ll have almost 30 methodology papers to mark. I’m almost tempted to say that I am looking forward to it ;). Almost.


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to
Skip to toolbar